Why my diary didn't mention D-Day: Harry Jack was 10 and on a cycling trip on 6 June 1944. But it was not the invasion that excited him

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MY memory of D-Day is now overlaid with that grainy newsreel shot from a landing-craft filled with soldiers approaching a line of battered houses above the beach.

I've seen it many times and it always grips me.

I can't remember thinking much about the invasion at the time, but I know what I was doing in June 1944; I was 10 and cycling with my parents along the Roman wall and up through Northumberland.

It was Dad's annual holiday from the mill: he and Mum on their tandem, me on my bike on long empty roads, staying at quiet pubs and in digs chosen from the Cyclists' Touring Club list.

After a few days exploring the wall and its forts we slept

at Otterburn on the night of 5 June in a 1930s 'roadhouse' - we were the only guests.

It had glass swing doors with diagonal push-bars like something in an Odeon cinema, but there was a tin-lid for an ashtray on each of the many empty tables. Breakfast was small and greasy on thick white plates.

We rode off early, passing Elsdon, where a murderer was once caught because someone carefully observed the pattern of his boot-studs (a story I'd learned in the Boy Scouts), through Rothbury and across dreary moorland with a wet wind in our faces. There was nobody else on the road.

We stopped by a stream and cooked potatoes on the Primus, then struggled up a long hill. Near the top the amazing sight of a single-track railway with a tiny LNER engine pulling one carriage: civilisation at last] I thought.

Then, thankfully, downhill into Alnwick - a stream running down the street, the castle with its weird statues on the battlements and odd-looking iron lions with long straight tails like pointer-dogs.

In the evening we arrived at Belford, which is why I know this was the 6 June. The old landlady - in the CTC list - opened her door, glanced at me and said she couldn't take us in: she wouldn't take children. From her parlour I could hear the wireless - she was impatient to get back to it.

We stepped across to the Bell Hotel. No luck here either. An old buffer in a basket chair (tweeds, whisky glass) eyed three tired cyclists with a distaste obvious even to me. He and his posh friends were listening to the radio too - the King's speech.

The rest of the town was deserted. (Could they all be indoors listening to the King? I wondered.)

But suddenly the street was crowded. Everyone - except the CTC woman and the tweedy set in the Bell - had been to a circus.

Eventually I was put up with a friendly family at No 22 in the council houses; the kids told me all about the circus acts. Dad and Mum went back to the old lady - now rather contrite after having heard

the King and perhaps fearful

of losing her CTC listing.

The following week, on our way home and sitting in the sun on a bench outside one of the Original Old Blacksmith's Shops in Gretna Green, I listened to two men discussing the war news.

The Germans were sending over pilotless planes - robot rocket planes] This seemed more interesting than Normandy; after all we were racing up Italy, Rome had been captured, the wonderful Red Army was steamrollering in from the east, the Japs were on the run in Burma. The landings at Salerno and Anzio had been exciting: I scarcely noticed D-Day till much later.

But jet-planes, maybe controlled by radio, maybe launched from carrier-planes half-way across the North Sea - this was new, scary, like something from Dad's science-fiction magazines.

Later we knew them as Flying Bombs, or V1s; a Cockney evacuee told me they called them Doodlebugs. This seemed a silly name for something so sinister from H G Wells or Flash Gordon.

The notebook I kept then doesn't mention D-Day. It has inky drawings of V1 Flying Bombs.

I don't know when I first saw those newsreel pictures of the D-Day landings - steel helmets and that row of seaside houses behind.

They'll be on TV soon and again I'll wonder what happened to these men after the camera switched off; I'll think of the appalling difference between their lives and mine that day, and the fact that so many of them were only seven or eight years older than the child I was then.

(Photograph omitted)

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